Skip to main content

Full text of "Greek revival and colonial architecture in Ithaca, N.Y. and vicinity"

See other formats






J\Y^ft>i^ MA 



Of domestic Greek Bevlval wozk we hear little. We may eoqplain this 
14 maay waye* It violated the teehnlqioe of wood design hy following a style 
perfected in stone and hence Jarred on the sensihilltles of a people accus^ 
iNffned to regard the native delicate Colonial style as the only tarue domestic 
•wle developed In onr country* And nAio vants to live in a Greek temple any*- 
IwrT As one party said who lives in an old Greek Bevival house in the town, 
"pt*s like living in a tomb*" Yet why do we stop to look twice n^en we pass 
oie of these old buildings and examine the subtle llx^s and undercuttings in 
tlie moldings and cornices^ the refinements that show a time appreciation of 
^o old Greek work? Surely this work must have unconsciously affected the 
%4ste of those who saw it every day. You may say that the only ones who appre-> 
(^ated the buildings were the carpenters and they probably took the lines 
straight out of the book, but I believe in the idea that there was in general 
Ajgroping for culture that manifested Itself in these neat little white bulld- 
i^iga ifttlch dot the countryside* 

I We should not attempt to Judge the old work by our standards of to- 

diiy for we would find them sadly lacking in many points of comfort and conven-- 
i^uce* Plan was almost cozqpletely subservient to elevation, the lighting was 
pdor due to heavy porticos, and in the case of the little farmhouse the second 
stoxy was dwarfed to half**size and lighted by little windows in the frieze of 
-t^ie order called "Lie«-on*-your*-8tomaeh" windows* Yet we never pass them without 
|ing conscious of the contrast they make with the average cheap modem house 
»wever cos^letely equipped it may be to make life comfortable* It is another 
^d a nea^rer of the~ countless echoes of that mighty style developed two thousand 
years ago in another continent and as such cannot be passed without remai^c* 

i But Ithaca also had its share of good Colonial work. This was a result 

of the building of early settlers from Hew England and the South and occurred 
before Greek Bevival work began* A sketch of the town history and a discussion 
o^ its typical buildings will make this clear. 


I Ithaca was a settlement in the late part of the 18th century, was 

incorporated as a town in 1821 and saw its first newspaper in 1819, an eight- 

fd gossipy sheet treating of local items, sales and exchanges of classic books 
salt in bulk, want--ad8 for stray cows, stage arrivals and departures, and 
lled-»for mail at the postoffice but no reference to local buildings or their 
ders* The local histories revel in flourishing tributes to the natural 
ery, the first steamboat on the lake and its thrilling initial voyage, ex- 
ed eulogies on the big citizens but no clue is given as to the old architee-* 
t^e* The only authentic account of any of the builders is one Ira Tilletson who 
^une here in 1810 and did most of the early building among which was the Judd 
H^use, illustrated elsewhere* There is preserved his account with Charles Hum- 
phrey the owner in the form of an itemized bill of costs of everything from the 
lid for the cellar stove to the screws in the stair-hand-rail* A page of this is 
reproduced here. We may assume that most of the woik Including the onall famw 
Swuses around were done by men of his staiqp and fx^m examination of the buildings 
we also may assume that they often rendered original versions of the classic ele-» 
m^nts, as for instance in the House at Forest Home. 




Cornell University 

The original of this book is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 


Nearly all of the early mayors of the town were from New England, 
usiaally Connecticut or MassachuBetts or from the South, usually Virginia. As 
representitives of the population this accounts for the Colonial buildings* 
There are Illustrated here four Colonial buildings- The Wells House, The Judd 
House, the Old Bank of Newburgh and the house at Cayuta Lake, near Ithaca. 
I shall discuss them in this order* 

Lucius Wells came from Lenox, Massachusetts about 1810 and shortly 
after built a residesioe, now occi^ied by his grand-danghter. Miss. Ackley, on 
the corner of Cayuga and ttreen Streets. It is a brick structure done in Flemish 
bond, very carefully woriced out and di^laying a high grade of craftmanship. 
The work is consistent in spirit within and without. The moldings are quite 
delicate and graceful in line and in the case of those of the mantel in the 
parlo;dr are carved entirely by hand. The undercutting is carried to the limit. 
The elliptical recesses over the door and windows add quite a little charm to the 
facade. This is practically the only example of a colonial brick building in the 
town and is ^n example of building influenced by settlers from other districts. 


The Judd House takes its name from the people now occtg;)ying the house 
who have carefully preserved and even restored the house with the aim of z^tain- 
ing its original appearance. It was built by Captain Charles Hunphrey, a veteran 
of the war of 1812 and an energetic and philanthropic early citizen of the town. 
It was built in 1828 on its present site, Cayuga and Mill Streets. The itemized 
bill of costs referred to before contains some interesting contrasts with present 
day prices. Labor woxked for a dollar a day, the cost of digging the cellar was 
nine dollars and sixty-two cents, one item for hauling lumber, seventeen cents, 
the "collums" of the portico cost six dollari and the total cost of the house and 
the bam included was two thousand, one hundred and five dollars and sixty-six 
cents. The contrast of the matched siding tinder the portico and the clapboards 
on the sides is quite pleasing. It will be noticed that the cornice on the left 
end of the house does not rettim on the side at its full px^jection. I am told 
this was done to save money as that side was the property line and hence little 
seen. The frieze is a wide board tpon which the architrave is nailed. The portiet) 
pediment space is used inside for a sewing room. It is three steps -yxg from the 
second story level and is more spacious than might be imagined from the outside. 
There is projection sufficient for modillions on the main cornice but they were 
never applied. The house is quite nice in character and attracts much attention 
from passers-by* 

{18\2.) The Old Bank of Newburgh is commonly known as the George House due to 
a family of that name taking it in a dilapidated condition, fixing it ^3^ and 
fflovinff it from its original site on State Street to its present site beside the 
Judd House on Mill Street. It was built by Charles Htmiphrey as the Ithaca branch 
of the Bank of Newburgh. In spite of its public function the design retains much 
of a domestic character. The interior is spacious and contains a well-designed 
stairway as well as some interesting mantel-pieces. The attennated pilasters 
with their curious capitals and the delicate cornice give quite a graceful char- 
acter to the building. The combination of matched siding and clapboards which te 
often done in this region affords a nice contrast of li^t and shade. The door- 
way has a deep inset on the sides which was nndoubtedly done to light the hall 


bhra the side-lights and also so as not to interfere with the relation of the 
door width to the spacing between the two central pilasters. The iron railing 
may have been added later* The simplicity of the design is especially to be 
commended as evidenced in the treatment of the window trim* The cast-iron 
grille in the basement window was probably put in later, having been taken from 
some old (Jreek Revival House in the vicinity* It is typical of this kind of 
grille, the design being based on the anthemion* 

The house at Cayuta Lake is the best Colonial exanqple in the vicinity 
and compares favorably with any work in the country of its kind. It was built 
about 1825 by Southern settleri who it is said brought slaves with them and one 
is shown sheds reputed to be the old slave quarters* At any rate things are 
laid out on a luxurious scale and it seems no expense was spared to make an ideal 
country home* The house is situated at the end of a long lot, facing a long 
vista bordered on either side by great locust trees out to the road where the lot 
ends with an old picket fence* The back of the house faces on a gentle slope 
with summer houses done in trellis woik and looks down on Cayuta Lake which lies 
some fourteen miles south-west of Ithaca* The service wing isireated simply and 
the door which is in splendid scale with the main part of the house is paneled in 
a most attractive manner* It is a dummy door I am told* At any rate it has no 
means of being opened now* The portico columns were turned from solid whitepine 
logs. The story goes that they were hauled by oxen to New York City to be turned* 
They must at any rate have been hauled some distance for there were no mills in 
the vicinity large enough to do the Job* The portico railing is quite an ornament 
to the house* Matched siding and clapboards are combined very effectively. The 
front door is very attractive with its leaded fan-light and side-lights* The in- 
terior is very spacious and qtiite well lighted. A stair hall runs through and con^ 
tains a broad staircase with spindle balustrade n:inning 19 to the third floor* The 
rooms are large and six of them contain Italian marble fire-places* 

h^ — 

The Greek Revival work came later and extended from about 1820 to 1850* 

It took a strong hold on the community and the majority of the old buildings are 
in this style, including the out-flying farmhouses. These buildings developed into 
a definite type, a classic pediment entablature returned a shott ways on the front 
of the building, small "Lie-ott-your-stomach" windows in the frieze on the side, 
occassionally pilasters on the comers, and a doorway of classic detail on the_ — ^ 
front* The classic refinements were used such as breaking the architrave at the 
top tindercuttings on the moldings and a slight batter on the jamb* Of course in 
adapting classic elements to a small house many inconsistencies occurred* It was 
iHTOOssible to make things entirely symmetrical but they greatly reflect the charm 
of Greek design* If any one ever made a sacrifice for art, they did in point of 
comfort. These buildings varied in detail in various localities but in general 
followed a set formula* This may seem monotonus but it was a good formula. We 
never object to good sonnets though they follow a set metrical arrangement. The 
large town-houses were usually of the Doric order and often Ionic with free-stand- 
ing colonnades of four or six columns with great heavy entablatures carried out in 
almost absolute stone character. Here and there in the country near the towns 
situated on well-chosen sites commanding beautiful vistas are the homes of the 
wealthy* They are nearly all deserted now and were built during a period of finan- 
cial inflation. These Greek temples are quite striking as one comes i^on them 
standing solitary and neglected. 


I I have chosen the three best local exazrples which show an attexapt to 

^translate this stone style into wood design. They are: The House at Forest Hozne 
I the Dean House and the Giles Homestead. The little house at Forest Home departs 
Iconsiderably from the customary fommla and displays a great deal of ingenuity 
on the part of the builder* Entablature although rather heavy in mass is quite 
; interesting in detail as the profiles show two octagonal moldings which take the 
place of the conventional bed moldings. They have an undercutting which forms a 
deep shadow which is attractive. The slope of the pediment forces the upper 
windows out of alignment with the lower which probably hurts the design* The 
columns are quite tmusual, the fluting stops about an inch below the cap abrtj^tly 
and gives the appearance of a Jacket about the shaft* The door is considerably 
lightened by delicate paneling which also occurs on the side and soffit of the 
architrave. This building never fails to attract favorable comment by those who 
have seen it* 

The Dean House on Tioga Street is an isolated example of the Corin- 
thian Order. It has been re-modelled to its detriment and I show only the old 
part of the house* The porch is too shallow to be useful. The side pilasters 
may be criticized as being too light but the detail is very nice especially the 
cast-^iron capitals, the decoration over the door and the cast-iron grille in the 
front. The cornice is light and graceful* 

The Giles Homestead was built about 1830 by two brothers named Giles* 
Their object, so the story goes, was to live under the same roof with their fami- 
lies and yet insure family felicity so the bouse was built symmetrical on the 
main axis and communication between the two parts could only be had by opening 
the sliding door in the parlor or meeting in the stairhall* Sach entrance had its 
own walk and front gate. The site was well selected and the house well placed on 
the lot. The elder Giles willed the house to the University. Professor Corson 
bought it and lived in it until his death* Then it became the Sturges Preparatory 
School and now it is the Lutheran Chapel and home of Reverend Horn. The timbers 
under the first floor are of enormous proportions, rough<-hewn and fastened with 
wooden pegs through mortise and tenon* The walls are built of two-inch vertical 
planking. The design of the house reflects an intelligent knowledge and true 
synipathy for the lines of Greek architecture* The outside is finished with matched 
siding of variable widths* The parlor is especially attractive amd the pilasters 
are lovely in detail* 

Cornell University Ubrary 
NA 7238.I8S88 

Greek revival and colonial architecture 

3 1924 014 765 253